What To Do With Your Vehicle When You Travel

When planning an extended trip, it seems there are always a million questions that need to be answered.

We’ve been there (multiple times) and have written in the past on preparing for a long trip, like what to do with your stuff while you travelwhat to do with your pets when you go on vacation, preparation lists, and how to sell your things online before leaving.

Over the years, we’ve been asked multiple times what we do with our vehicle when we travel, so we wrote this to give you some ideas and their pros and cons. Just realize that everyone’s situation is unique and what works for us might not be the best for you.

The first question you have to ask is how long do you plan to be away?

Short term vehicle storage

If you’re only leaving for a few weeks then you can simply leave your car in your garage, driveway or parking lot and get a friend or a taxi to drive you to the airport. You can also leave your vehicle at the airport or, even better, an off the airport lot that provides free shuttle service to the airport. Off-airport parking lots are usually half the price of leaving your vehicle at the airport directly and only cost an extra 15 to 20 minutes.

If you have a good friend who lives much closer to the airport, leave your vehicle at their place and get a much cheaper taxi ride the rest of the way.

Tip: If your friend doesn’t have a dedicated parking space for you, be careful that long term parking (a few weeks) is allowed on their road and that the neighborhood is safe enough to do so. A broken window or stolen vehicle will cost you a lot more than the price of leaving your car in a secure lot. Depending on your trust level, leaving the keys with your buddy can help alleviate any unforeseen problems and allow them to move it if needed.

Two weeks to a few months

If you plan to be away for a few weeks to a few months and can’t leave your vehicle at home, ask about long term rates before leaving your vehicle with any lot. Even those airport shuttle places have better deals for long term travel if you discuss the rates with them before hand.

You might also reconsider leaving your vehicle on the road near a friends’ house for a long period of time. The chance of being towed or broken into rises with each extra day and since vehicles are a bit of an investment (if a declining one) you might not want to leave it so exposed.

Long term vehicle storage

You’ll need a long term storage solution when you’re traveling for at least a few months up until a year and beyond. Unlike short term travelers, you might be renting your place out or putting your things into storage, so leaving your vehicle in the garage isn’t possible. Contrary to what you might think, you actually have a lot of options for long term vehicle storage, depending on your comfort level, the value of your vehicle and how much you’re willing to spend.

Sell it now

The simplest thing to do might be to sell your vehicle. If you’re planning to be gone six months or more and your vehicle is new enough to still be rapidly declining in value every day, then the best solution might be to get rid of it and buy another vehicle if or when you return. Not only will you not lose any further depreciation on it but you will also be able to cancel the insurance (which could mean money back if you’ve prepaid for the year) and it won’t cost you anything in storage fees.

Tip:  The money you save in depreciation and insurance should be weighed against the cost to sell your car. Depending on where you live, the taxes you would need to pay (on selling your current vehicle or buying a new one) or the cost of paying out any loans could offset any potential gain. There’s also no guarantee that the replacement car or truck you purchase on your return will be as good as what you had.

This year we decided to sell our car right before leaving and keep our small SUV. The car was paid off and we didn’t expect to need two vehicles when we returned. Though we loved that car, it made more sense to keep the SUV since it was older (and was depreciating slower) and also because it can carry so much more than the car. The car is also a very popular make so there are lots for sale at any time in case we want to buy another one down the road.

Unfortunately, selling isn’t an option for those who lease their vehicles and owe more than it’s worth. For those that want to hold onto their car there are still plenty of choices.

Rural and cheap on the farm storage

Years ago, we left our vehicles at Micki’s parents’ place. They lived far outside the city and had a lot of land. Leaving it there wasn’t a problem and the fact that it didn’t cost us anything was a nice plus. The problem was that they lived hours from the airport and we’ve found that the cost and hassle of renting a car right before flying out and then again when we got back was greater than just storing it somewhere close to the airport.

There was also the issue of mice. Since they lived in a very rural setting, all three times we left a vehicle on the farm we had problems with mice getting in. This might not be a problem where you live, but leaving a vehicle on the grass for extended periods of time in Canada is just asking for trouble. There are a lot of products out there that are designed to help keep mice out of a stored car, but we’ve tried a bunch all to no avail.

That said, leaving your vehicle on a farm, on a large lot or anyplace with cheap or even better, free parking, can be a great deal. If you have friends, family or even know someone who knows someone who has access to a lot of land this can be the cheapest option.

Interior storage

If you’re worried about the elements or rodents, another option might be inside storage. This can range from large facilities that specialize in storage to renting someone’s garage.

When looking into large complexes, we’ve found that the cost for interior storage is around twice the going rate for exterior storage. Some places the temperature and security is constantly monitored, but some places it’s not. Make sure you ask beforehand and keep that in mind when comparing them.

Tip: When looking into interior storage complexes, look for companies targeting classic car owners and boat storage as they’ll likely have rodent control measures and good security. Depending on where you live, a climate controlled building is probably not required and will save you money.

Personal garages for rent are popular, with owners choosing to make a few extra dollars rather than using the space themselves. We rented a private garage on one of our trips and it worked out well. The downside was that no one was really watching over the garage and we convinced some friends to check it every week for us while we were gone. We also had our belongings in the same garage so that might have added to our extra worry. The price for storing both was far less than other options so it was a good choice regardless of the security concerns. If the owner had lived nearby it wouldn’t have been a concern.

Tip: Personal garages for rent are usually found through a friend or an ad on Craigslist, Kijiji or something similar. Mechanics may also be able to help you find a garage for rent so make sure to ask around.

Volkswagen Car Silo Storage Option

Volkswagen’s storage solution Credit

Another option for inside storage is underground parking. The downside is that not many people list their parking spaces as available to rent. They can also be open to a lot of traffic and the chance of a break in could be higher than the other options..

Tip: With a lot of older people no longer able to drive, their need for a parking spot decreases. Condos, apartments and townhouses designed for the 60 plus age group are a great place to start looking if you want to go this route. If you can talk to the building manager you can probably quickly find out if anyone has a space they don’t need. You can also talk to any friends or family who live in a building with underground parking and see if anything is available there. Even if their parking spot is taken, there might be others available to rent.

Outside long term vehicle storage

These days, we’ve found that in-city long term vehicle storage is the way to go for us. These spaces are usually marketed for RV and boat owners who don’t have the space to park their vehicle for the winter. Because the average car, truck or SUV is much smaller than the typical motorhome or trailer, the price is usually far less as well.

Tip:  We look for a place close enough to the airport that either a taxi ride won’t break the bank or a friend won’t disown us for asking for a ride. We also look for someplace secure that is gated and has secure access. In the past few years we’ve also ensured that the RV storage lot has a gravel or paved lot to minimize rodent issues.

We also ensure that the car is spotlessly clean inside before we leave (again to minimize rodent issues) and we try to wash the vehicle right before we drop it off (to minimize rusting). This year we also unhooked the battery since last year we got back to a dead battery and had to have someone jump start our car. We’ve never bothered to cover our vehicle since I’d rather deal with fading than other issues like a tarp rubbing in the wind. Since we won’t be around to look after it we leave someone in town as the contact point.

Storage insurance

One thing we also do is change our insurance on the vehicle to storage or parking insurance. Storage insurance usually costs only a fraction of our normal insurance and still protects us in case of theft, vandalism or fire. It’s also a must if you can’t have a gap in your insurance (some places will charge a hefty premium if you have a time gap in your insurance coverage) so be mindful that your province/state/country doesn’t have that as well.

Final thoughts

When you leave for an extended trip one of the hardest hurdles is dealing with your things. Sometimes I think people use their stuff as an excuse to put off that big trip they’ve always dreamed about.

Hopefully this post gives you some ideas on what to do with one of your largest things, your vehicle. Whether you sell your home and put your remaining items into storage or rent your place out for the time you’re gone you’ll have to decide what to do with your ride. Depending on who you are, what shape your vehicle is in and your budget, know that there is a solution for you.

7 Responses

  1. Larissa

    Good overview of options. We knew we would be gone for over a year, and our cars were old, so we sold them. Now that we’re back from our RTW we’re still nomadic, so we try to stay places where we won’t need a vehicle. If we do need one, we find the cheapest rental we can get.

    Interestingly, we used to be into what type of car we drove. Now that we’ve traveled, we’re more interested in getting places.
    Larissa recently posted..Our 10 top travel stories of 2012My Profile

    Reply
    • Charles Kosman

      Larissa, we’ve always found it nice to have a vehicle to come back to. With family living in 3 different provinces whenever we get back from a long trip it seems a road trip soon follows. We take good care of our vehicles, never buy anything too new or that will depreciate a lot in value while we’re gone and park it someplace that won’t kill the bank. In Canada, especially outside any of the major centers, being without a vehicle isn’t really viable with two young kids.

      That being said, we did sell one of our cars this trip and my nice utility trailer, which for some reason still saddens me. There are definite pro’s and cons to keeping versus just getting rid of them. Until Canada is no longer considered our home base I would imagine we’ll always have a vehicle waiting for us when we get back.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Reply

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